‘The Rest Is . . .’  taking over the world

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“It’s about all the fun things you can escape to,” said Marina Hyde, by way of announcing the latest chapter of The Rest Is . . . podcast brand. Part of former England footballer Gary Lineker’s Goalhanger Productions, this latest addition to the stable, The Rest Is Entertainment, has gone for a more tabloid approach, billing itself as an exploration of  “showbiz, gossip, music [and] celebrity scandal”, and sweeping up all the random popularist cultural markers that the other Rest Is’s don’t.   

It is presented by Hyde, better known as The Guardian columnist everyone else aspires to be, and Richard Osman, the very tall author who conceived the television game show Pointless and is something of a professional talking head. In their first outing they discussed all sorts of cultural trivia — from Nigel Farage’s appearance in the UK game show I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here to Jeff Bezos and Netflix’s Squid Game — in the same amiable conversational format that fans of The Rest Is . . .  have come to love.

Goalhanger produces a fleet of podcasts, from Empire to Battleground, but The Rest Is . . .  series is its flagship brand. The Rest Is History, co-hosted by historians Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook, was launched in 2020, and is now downloaded more than 6mn times a month. The Rest Is Politics, with former Conservative MP Rory Stewart and Labour’s former head of communications Alastair Campbell, has become the go-to primer for people who can’t be bothered to read anything in-depth. 

In an interview with the FT earlier this year, Lineker marvelled at the platform’s “staggering” successes: Goalhanger claims to be the UK’s largest independent podcast group, with 17.5mn downloads a month.

It’s also an extremely lucrative platform for its presenters, whose remuneration is based on a revenue-sharing model in which they take home a third of their podcast revenue. A Goalhanger podcast offers life-changing salaries and second-career fame: Campbell, now shorn of all the expletives and angry power he once was famed for, seems like an almost personable guy. 

Some find The Rest Is . . . experience akin to being trapped behind two tedious sixth-formers on the bus back from a school trip. Others enjoy the benign didacticism of being lectured to on a dinner party subject about which they might later want to express a view. If there is a secret to the podcasts’ popularity, it’s in the way they offer easy accessibility to intellectual themes. The Rest Is History invests no small effort in the human interest stories: it’s the Siege of Constantinople, plus poo jokes and concubines. 

The Rest Is Entertainment is a slightly different beast: instead of injecting highbrow subjects with bawdy lowbrow details, the presenters have brought their Oxbridge learning and erudition to the basest subjects in the cultural realm. As a first date, it was kind of awkward, especially when drawn out for an hour.

Even so, this was a first outing. Pop culture podcasts — as with any discussion of pop phenomena — are notoriously difficult to balance: too bright, and they become breathless and hagiographic. Too critical, and they become an intellectual sneer.

In the old days, we watched endless listicles on television, where ancient broadcasters pitched in about their favourite movies/TV adverts/football tunes. Now, we plug into staged recreations of conversations you could just as easily hear down the pub. It’s a bizarre condition of modern society that we want to tune into conversations from which we ourselves are barred. Is this a symptom of a lack of confidence in the age of cancellation, that we need someone else to set the tone?

Naturally, being an old windbag, I would far prefer to talk at people instead. I occasionally get to take part in discussions for the Life and Art from FT Weekend podcast, and feel a tremendous sense of wellbeing when behaving like a pompous bore. 

Is there a limit to how many Rest Is’s can be done? What people want from a podcast varies hugely according to who is listening. And there is no depth to the inanities that people will tune in to hear discussed. The Rest Is Entertainment seemed to get a good response: by Wednesday, the first episode had already hit number one on Apple’s UK podcast chart. Our podcast appetites are seemingly insatiable, with global revenues reaching $25.85bn this year. That’s a lot of banter. With the earnings described by one producer as being “Championship footballer money”, it’s no wonder the genre is growing. The Rest Is . . . has become a behemoth. The rest is . . . a gravy train.  

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